Running Away With the Circus
By Steven Ward
By Steven Ward
Rolling Stone is not the only rock magazine still publishing today that was founded in the late '60s; believe it or not, Circus magazine has appeared on newsstands, unabated, since 1968. And like Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, Circus Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Gerald Rothberg is still at the helm. Rothberg actually started Circus in 1966, under the title, Hullabaloo. In the almost 40 years since, Circus has been many different kinds of music publication. It started out as a general interest rock magazine, running stories on classic rockers such as the Doors, Genesis, and Grand Funk Railroad. Later, Rothberg realized that his target audience--teen boys--loved to read about their favorite rock stars over and over, month after month. So when a band like Kiss hit, they were one of Circus's biggest cover stars. Circus covered all kinds of rock and pop music but always featured a large number of heavy metal and hard rock bands in its pages.
Following an unpopular move to a pop culture weekly in the mold of People in the late '70s, Rothberg went back to a monthly format and started to get back to the hard rock and heavy metal stars that made his magazine sales soar. Rothberg's lean toward those kind of acts paid off big time in the '80s when the hair metal explosion hit. Month in and month out, it was Def Leppard, Van Halen, and Bon Jovi on the covers. The hair metal years in the '80s were Rothberg's most profitable for Circus. When grunge hit in the '90s, Circus got confused and lost its focus (even putting rappers Arrested Development on the cover one month--and getting tons of hate mail in the process).
After Rothberg changed the longtime design and logo of the magazine in the mid to late '90s, he pared his staff down to a bare minimum and fielded out stories to freelancers. Today, Circus covers the world of contemporary heavy metal, competing with the Hit Paraders and Metal Edges of the world. With the exception of Rothberg, a couple of NYU students work in the office to put out the magazine each month, which is largely written by freelancers. Still, there was a time--the mid '70s to the mid '80s--when Circus had a full-time editorial staff that included some of the biggest names in rock journalism, including Paul Nelson, Fred Schruers, Daisann McLane, Jim Farber, David Fricke, and Kurt Loder.
Unlike Rolling Stone, there are no books, websites, or articles that exist on the history of Circus magazine. Thus rockcritics.com presents this ongoing oral history of the magazine. Here, former Circus writers and editors--and even a few who continue to write for the magazine today--talk about Circus, their time there, and the man behind the magazine, Gerald Rothberg.
[Editor's Note: This feature will run in installments, with new interviews added every couple weeks or so. Updates will be listed here, as well as on rockcritics.com's main index page.]